President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Full text
The following is the full text of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address as prepared for delivery.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans: We are fifteen years into this new century. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world. It has been, and still is, a hard time for many.
But tonight, we turn the page. Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years. Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, fewer than 15,000 remain. And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe. We are humbled and grateful for your service. America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong. At this moment – with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production – we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.
It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come. Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort? Will we approach the world fearful and reactive, dragged into costly conflicts that strain our military and set back our standing? Or will we lead wisely, using all elements of our power to defeat new threats and protect our planet? Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another – or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled America forward?
In two weeks, I will send this Congress a budget filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan. And in the months ahead, I’ll crisscross the country making a case for those ideas. So tonight, I want to focus less on a checklist of proposals, and focus more on the values at stake in the choices before us.
It begins with our economy. Seven years ago, Rebekah and Ben Erler of Minneapolis were newlyweds. She waited tables. He worked construction. Their first child, Jack, was on the way. They were young and in love in America, and it doesn’t get much better than that. “If only we had known,” Rebekah wrote to me last spring, “what was about to happen to the housing and construction market.” As the crisis worsened, Ben’s business dried up, so he took what jobs he could find, even if they kept him on the road for long stretches of time.
Rebekah took out student loans, enrolled in community college, and retrained for a new career. They sacrificed for each other. And slowly, it paid off. They bought their first home. They had a second son, Henry. Rebekah got a better job, and then a raise. Ben is back in construction – and home for dinner every night. “It is amazing,” Rebekah wrote, “what you can bounce back from when you have towe are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”
We are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times. America, Rebekah and Ben’s story is our story. They represent the millions who have worked hard, and scrimped, and sacrificed, and retooled. You are the reason I ran for this office. You’re the people I was thinking of six years ago today, in the darkest months of the crisis, when I stood on the steps of this Capitol and promised we would rebuild our economy on a new foundation.
And it’s been your effort and resilience that has made it possible for our country to emerge stronger. We believed we could reverse the tide of outsourcing, and draw new jobs to our shores. And over the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs. We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. And today, America is number one in oil and gas. America is number one in wind power.
Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump. We believed we could prepare our kids for a more competitive world. And today, our younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record. Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high. And more Americans finish college than ever before.
We believed that sensible regulations could prevent another crisis, shield families from ruin, and encourage fair competition. Today, we have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts, and a new consumer watchdog to protect us from predatory lending and abusive credit card practices.
And in the past year alone, about ten million uninsured Americans finally gained the security of health coverage. At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years. So the verdict is clear.
Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way. We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns. We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto.
Today, thanks to a growing economy, the recovery is touching more and more lives. Wages are finally starting to rise again. We know that more small business owners plan to raise their employees’ pay than at any time since 2007. But here’s the thing – those of us here tonight, we need to set our sights higher than just making sure government doesn’t halt the progress we’re making. We need to do more than just do no harm.
Tonight, together, let’s do more to restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity for every American. Because families like Rebekah’s still need our help. She and Ben are working as hard as ever, but have to forego vacations and a new car so they can pay off student loans and save for retirement. Basic childcare for Jack and Henry costs more than their mortgage, and almost as much as a year at the University of Minnesota.
Like millions of hardworking Americans, Rebekah isn’t asking for a handout, but she is asking that we look for more ways to help families get ahead. In fact, at every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot. We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity.
We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the internet – tools they needed to go as far as their effort will take them. That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. We don’t just want everyone to share in America’s success – we want everyone to contribute to our success. So what does middle-class economics require in our time? First – middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change.
That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement – and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year. Here’s one example.
During World War II, when men like my grandfather went off to war, having women like my grandmother in the workforce was a national security priority – so this country provided universal childcare. In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It’s not a nice-to-have – it’s a must-have.
It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us. And that’s why my plan will make quality childcare more available, and more affordable, for every middle-class and low-income family with young children in America – by creating more slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year. Here’s another example. Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave. Forty-three million.
Think about that. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home. So I’ll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own. And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let’s put it to a vote right here in Washington. Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.
It’s the right thing to do. Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages. That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time. We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they’ve earned. And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.
These ideas won’t make everybody rich, or relieve every hardship. That’s not the job of government. To give working families a fair shot, we’ll still need more employers to see beyond next quarter’s earnings and recognize that investing in their workforce is in their company’s long-term interest. We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice. But things like child care and sick leave and equal pay; things like lower mortgage premiums and a higher minimum wage – these ideas will make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of families. That is a fact. And that’s what all of us – Republicans and Democrats alike – were sent here to do.
Second, to make sure folks keep earning higher wages down the road, we have to do more to help Americans upgrade their skills. America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best workforce in the world. But in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to do more. By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education.
Two in three. And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future. That’s why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college – to zero. Forty percent of our college students choose community college. Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt. Understand, you’ve got to earn it – you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time.
Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible. I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.
And I want to work with this Congress, to make sure Americans already burdened with student loans can reduce their monthly payments, so that student debt doesn’t derail anyone’s dreams. Thanks to Vice President Biden’s great work to update our job training system, we’re connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to fill high-paying jobs like coding, and nursing, and robotics. Tonight, I’m also asking more businesses to follow the lead of companies like CVS and UPS, and offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships – opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education.